For her thirteenth birthday, Anne Frank received a book she had shown her father in a store window in Amsterdam. She immediately began to use it as a diary to record her thoughts. Less than a month later, she and the rest of her family, along with another Jewish family, went into hiding in a secret annex above the business her father owned. Anne continued to write in her diary for nearly two years and the rest is history. Of the eight people sheltered in that attic, only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, survived the Nazi death camps. Anne’s diary was saved by one of the non-Jewish Dutch workers who sheltered and fed the fugitives. The diary was first published in 1947 and today is a staple in the curriculum of many schools. In 1955 Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted it for the stage and the play won a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize. In 1997 Wendy Kesselman wrote a new adaptation drawing from previously unpublished parts of the original diary.
Producer/director Stan Zimmerman learned last year that there were about a dozen “safe houses” in the Los Angeles area hiding LatinX families from ICE. “What if they started reading the script of this play out loud? They would not only hear the profound words of this very insightful young woman, but actually be stepping into the shoes of the people in her diary.” The result was his production of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Dorie Theatre for three weeks last fall. Now the show has returned for a seven week run in the same space. The show begins as a staged reading with the cast—Emiliano Torres, Elvira Barjau, Nikki Mejia and Genesis Ochoa as Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne Frank, Robert C. Raicch, Raquenel and David Gurrola as the Van Daans and Heather Olt and Keith Coogan as the Dutch workers who kept them hidden. Clad in the utilitarian black rehearsal clothes, they flatly begin reading the stage directions as well as the dialogue from their hand held scripts. Aris Alvarado eventually joins them as the dentist Dussell. They eventually drop their books and the show proceeds. The second act adds some set pieces and costumes.
It’s unclear if it is the new material in the script or the choice the director and Ochoa made in playing the role, but Anne comes off as much more of a peevish brat here than in previous productions this reviewer has seen. As a result, it is difficult to feel warmly towards her. The cacophonous staging of the arrest also masks one of Anne’s most memorable lines “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.” The performances of the balance of the cast never rise much above that original staged reading vibe. The only performer to make an indelible impression is Raquenel as Mrs. Van Daan. Granted it is a great role, the one that won Shelley Winters her first Oscar, but Raquenel truly makes the role hers and owns every scene she is in.
The Dorie Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Ends Feb 24. brownpapertickets.com